Saturday, September 06, 2008

And Now a Word From Harvey

The last several days I have been featuring a series of articles from Chuck McKay on how to survive a recession. Today I have some thought's from another man with a similar last name:

Harvey Mackay's Column This Week

Bouncing back from deflating times

Failure is all too common in business. Anyone who has ever run a business wakes up regularly with nightmares about the what-ifs.

Successful businesspeople, however, know that even if adversity strikes, they can work around it. They are resilient.

In the mid-1990s, Microsoft was dominating its market and Apple Computer's sales were sagging. Steven Jobs, who had co-founded Apple in 1976, left in 1985 after a power struggle with the board of directors. Apple struggled too, until Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. He recognized the big problem and fixed it by establishing a spirit of innovation at the company. If brands like iMac, iPod, iTunes and iPhone ring a bell, you'll know what Jobs has been up to at Apple. And you will see one of the best examples of resiliency in recent years.

Tylenol currently controls about 35 percent of the North American pain reliever market. But in 1982, you couldn't give Tylenol away. A psychopath put cyanide into some Tylenol capsules, causing eight deaths. Although it was clear that Johnson & Johnson had done nothing wrong in the manufacturing of the pills, the company accepted responsibility and pulled more than 31 million bottles from the shelves at a cost of $100 million. The company also offered to exchange the capsules for tablets, taking another financial hit.

But their response, putting customer safety before corporate profit, helped restore confidence in both the company and the brand. Then-CEO Jim Burke said, "It will take time, it will take money, and it will be very difficult; but we consider it a moral imperative, as well as good business, to restore Tylenol to its pre-eminent position." Sales recovered quickly. Resilient? You better believe it.

Sure, those are two extreme examples. But if those companies can bounce back on such a large scale, they should inspire those facing smaller challenges.

Sales slumps, production slowdowns, labor issues and changing customer preferences affect many businesses. The strong survive not because they are determined to conduct business as usual, but because they find ways to rise above the issue at hand.

Remember, you can't live life with an eraser. You can't anticipate every possible problem, no matter how hard you try. But you can resolve to face challenges as they arise. Keep your mind wide open for solutions, listen to those around and under you, reprogram your brain for success and dig in.

The last decade could have spelled disaster for envelope companies like MackayMitchell Envelope Company. Fax machines, email, instant messaging, online catalogs, online bill paying, the anthrax scare, 9/11, recession—you name it. There was one threat after another. We could have been in the tank 20 times.

But we changed our business focus as necessary, cultivated new business, and managed to survive and thrive. The same work hours may not apply, vacations for our employees were put on hold, wages held in check. It's not forever, but it's survival. We would have had a hard time telling our employees that we weren't resilient enough to provide them with jobs. It wasn't just about us. We had a lot of families depending on our flexibility. And we still do. We are always looking for ways to protect our business against the next threat, even if we haven't identified it yet.

A great oak tree grew on the bank of a stream. For one hundred years it had withstood the winds, but one day a violent storm felled the oak with a mighty crash into the raging river and carried it out toward the sea.

The oak came to rest on a shore where some reeds were growing. The tree wondered how the reeds still stood after the strong winds.

"I have stood up against many storms, but this one was too strong for me," the oak said.

"That's your problem," the reeds replied. "All these years you have stubbornly pitted your strength against the wind. You were too proud to yield a little. We, on the other hand, knowing our weakness, just bend and let the wind blow over us without trying to resist it. The harder the wind blows, the more we humble ourselves, and here we are!"

It is better to bend than to break. Companies and workers who can bend and not break have the gift of resiliency that let them bounce back from adversity.

Mackay's Moral: Don't let hard times turn into end times. Let them lead to your best times.

Miss a column? The last three weeks of Harvey's columns are always archived online.

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